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Themes

The Difficulty of True Communication

Throughout “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” characters struggle to communicate with one another, and each attempt is fraught with difficulty. Muriel and her mother engage in a haphazard conversation in which Muriel never really hears her mother’s worries and Muriel’s mother never really hears Muriel’s reassurances that she is fine. The two women talk at rather than with each other, and neither woman succeeds in truly communicating her thoughts to the other. When Muriel attempts to talk with the psychiatrist at the resort, their communication is hindered by the noise around them. Seymour is entirely unable to communicate with other people at the resort, preferring to sit alone playing the piano or spend time at the beach rather than try to enter into a society in which he feels like an outsider. Sybil’s mother fails to communicate with Sybil clearly, believing that Sybil says “see more glass” when she is actually talking about Seymour Glass. Only Sybil and Seymour seem able to communicate effectively, although their discourse is on a child’s, not an adult’s, level.

Though Muriel and Seymour do not speak with each other in the story, their communication is so fraught as to be nonexistent. Muriel has no idea what is really going on in Seymour’s mind, and Seymour seemingly has no desire to explain to her how he feels. The most tragic lack of communication is Muriel’s mistaken certainty that Seymour’s mental health is fine. Seymour’s violent suicide is, perhaps, the one truly successful act of adult communication in the story, the one gesture that cannot be misread or ignored.

The Futile Search for Innocence

Seymour hovers uncomfortably between the world of adult sexuality and world of childhood innocence. Scarred from his experiences in the war and suffering from psychological distress, Seymour finds refuge in children. Innocent and simple, they exist in a world that is free from adult suffering and greed. Unlike Muriel, who is fixated on appearances and class, Sybil can communicate with Seymour in a way that calms him. By speaking Sybil’s language, Seymour may hope to reconnect to or return to a childlike, innocent state. Children and their world seem to hold the possibility of redemption.

A return to innocence proves to be impossible for Seymour. Though he is clearly distanced from Muriel emotionally, she is very much physically present. Their hotel room is suffused with the scents of her calfskin luggage and nail polish remover, and the physical space they share—in the car as they drove to Florida, in their hotel room, and at the resort—is small. Seymour’s self-isolation is temporary at best, as he opts out of parties to play the piano or retreats to the beach. The world of childhood innocence has long been lost for Seymour, and he chooses suicide as an escape from the oppressive adult world in which he must otherwise live as an outsider.

More main ideas from A Perfect Day for Bananafish

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Characters in the story experience difficulty with which of the following?
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Learning
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